So far this season, Roma has five players that have eclipsed the 2,000-minute mark in league play: Rui Patricio, Chris Smalling, Roger Ibañez, Gianluca Mancini, and Bryan Cristante. That quintet has been relied upon all season to provide solidity through the middle of the pitch for a team that has the second-best expected goals allowed and the fourth-best goals-allowed record in Italy’s top flight.
And up to this point, all of those players have been healthy and available match in and match out (knock on wood). That’s allowed Mourinho to put very little thought into almost half of his starting lineup. Patricio has played all 27 matches, and the other three have only missed out on one match apiece.
However, this time around, a chippy derby defeat will catch up with the Giallorossi two weeks later. In the derby against Lazio on March 19th, Ibañez was sent off after receiving two yellow cards, dooming Roma that day. Later in the match, Mancini was booked for the fifth time this season. And after the final whistle, Cristante received a straight red card, meaning all three players are suspended for one match.
On top of that, Max Kumbulla will have to serve one more match in the stands after his straight red card against Sassuolo earned him a two-match ban. With Kumbulla also out, Mourinho will be down three of his five center-backs. That leaves just two central defenders available for a team that typically plays a three-man backline. That’s less than an ideal situation with bottom-of-the-table Sampdoria coming to the Olimpico on Sunday.
With just Smalling and January arrival Diego Llorente available for this one, Mourinho will have to improvise a bit. That means right-back Zeki Celik will slot in as the right-sided center-back in Mancini’s place. With Celik playing in the back three and Rick Karsdorp still injured, Mourinho will also be limited on the wings, where Leo Spinazzola and Nicola Zalewski will start.
In midfield, Georginio Wijnaldum and Nemanja Matic will form the double pivot in the absence of Cristante. In front of them will be the usual attacking midfield duo of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala.
Who leads the line is the one question mark heading into this match. Tammy Abraham is no longer the out-and-out starter at striker for Mourinho. And at the moment, it seems to be a coin flip between Abraham and Andrea Belotti as to who starts.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Llorente, Smalling, Celik; Spinazzola, Matic, Wijnaldum, Zalewski; Pellegrini, Dybala; Belotti